Into the Lions Den Part 1

Trip Start Nov 24, 2008
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Trip End Oct 21, 2009


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Where I stayed
Brown Sugar Backpackers

Flag of South Africa  , Gauteng,
Saturday, July 4, 2009

Just fisnished a week in Johannesburg and there is quite a lot to say so we're going to split it into two seperate entries. In fact the last week has been a real eye-opener even by our standards. The best way to describe us right now is tired and emotional.
The flight from Perth to Jo'Burg took 12 hours but was surprisingly comfortable, we both slept for most of it which helped. We landed 5am on Thursday morning and we stumbled our way to baggage collection. We had arranged for the hostel to pick us up but there was no sign of them when we came through customs. We gave them a ring and after a bit of confusion they found us and we made the short drive to the hostel about 15 minutes away. The driving is pretty crazy in Jo'Burg as we discovered quickly enough when we were doing about 140km/h down a busy dual carriage way on the way to the hostel. There are other reasons too which I'll get into later.
When we got to the hostel we got our room and just crashed out for about 5 hours, seems the sleep on the plane wasn't enough after all. The hostel were staying in is a mansion set in the hills overlooking the city, it used to belong to a Mafia druglord who as it happens was gunned down on the streets of Jo'Burg a few years ago. Two South African women then decided to buy it and turn it into a hostel. Its a pretty cool place and its probably one of the better hostels we've stayed in for a long time, mainly because of the social scene and the two owners Liesel and June really looked after us.
We had done a lot of research before we arrived in Jo'Burg and consensus was that its a very dangerous place. In fact its known as one of the most dangerous cities in the world with the highest rate of rapes and the second highest rate of murders. They have the Sun newspaper here and reading it gives you a idea of what its like, I counted 35 stories about either murder, rape or shootings! All that being said we had met people before we got here that said its a bit exagerated and you'll get a feel for what its really like after you've been there a few days. Looking back I don't think I would agree what people told us because we saw a lot of seriously dodgy stuff going on and met quite a few people with first hand accounts of trouble they got into. I'll try and remember some of the crazier stories as I go along.
Friday morning we went to the Soweto township on a guided tour. Without getting into too much of the history the basic idea was that during the Apartheid many black South Africans were forcefully relocated from the city and its suburbs to these townships. Today Soweto is slowly developing into a modern city but it still has miles and miles of shanty towns where there is a lot of poverty. They are building a new stadium for the Soccer world cup next summer in the middle of Soweto and its amazing to see this super modern structure standing right out. We visited a small shanty town and got an escorted tour where we met some locals, in particular a women who was basically living in a shack with 3 kids. She talked to us a bit about how life was in these shanty towns then invited any questions. When we were finished our guide told us it was customary to give some money which we all did. After that we drove around looking at various points of interest before finally ending up at Nelson Mandela's house which is now a museum. An interesting bit of trivia is that the street with this house is also the same street where Archbishop Desmond Tutu grew up making it the only street in the world to have raised two Nobel Prize winners. We also had a look around the Soweto uprising museum which was very interesting. Friday night we had a few drinks in the hostel bar which was a lot busier than the previous night because of all the Lions' fans there for the game. We stayed up quite late talking to loads people and making plans for the following day.
Saturday morning we dragged ourselves out of bed and down to the kitchen for some breakfast. The place was filled with people wearing Lions' jerseys except for one guy with a South African jersey who kept telling everyone how the Lions were going to get trashed, unfortunately this was going to be a common occurence throughout the day as most of the Springbok supporters are ridiculously arrogant and full of themselves (Even more so than Munster supporters! ah no I'm only kidding). Getting to the stadium, Ellis Park, was quite handy as there is a park and ride just down the road from the hostel. When we got there we hit the Lions' Den bar where we met 3 guys from London we were talking to in the hostel the night before. Unfortunately they didn't know about the free park and ride and had got a taxi instead. On the way to the stadium they were spotted by police drinking beers in the taxi and were pulled over. Apparently this isn't illegal in South Africa but the cops were just looking for money, after a lot of arguing and threats of being locked up and missing the game they handed over 30 euro each. It seems the cops are a bit corrupt over here!? The atmosphere before the game was great, everyone was having a few beers and singing the usual rugby anthems. With about 20 minutes to kick off we headed into the grounds to look for our seats. From looking at the stadium map and what other people told us we were expecting our seats to be terrible so we were pleasantly surprised when we got in and found that we had pretty good seats (See the pictures).
If the atmosphere outside was good then when we got in it was amazing! It was hard to believe that South Africa had already won the first 2 tests and all we were playing for was pride. Everyone was chanting for the Lions and as the game progressed it got better and better, probably because we were on the way to trashing them! In fact after the game a few people were saying it was the worst score that South Africa have ever been beaten by in Ellis Park. This is a big deal because Ellis Park is like their spiritual home where they won the World Cup among other things. A lot of the South African supporters started leaving with 10 minutes to go even though their team was about to be presented with the trophy. The Lions' supporters didn't leave at the end while South Africa got their trophy and both squads did a lap of the grounds afterwards thanking them.
After the game we hit the Lions' Den bar again and started what was to be a pretty crazy night of celebrating. We met a few people we knew but in the spirit of the Lions' me and Rachel ended up sticking with the 3 lads from London. We got taxis to a few different bars and settled in a place called Rhapsody's until about midnight. It was a good laugh and we got talking to a couple of South African supporters who insisted on buying round after round of different shots for us. We even had shots of something called springboks which were illuminous green and nasty! 2 of lads from London had had enough at that stage and made there way back to the hostel. Me, Rachel and Danny from London decided to head across to the other side of the city in search of a nightclub called Manhatton. We never did find it but we found a nightclub which had the Lions' bus parked outside so we decided to go in there instead. On the way in we met Jamie Heaslip coming out. He complimented me on my beard and posed for a picture with us, nice fella. After paying the exhorbitantly high entry fee we got inside and discovered most of the Lions' players were there. Rachel was disapointed though because her hero Rob Kearney was no where to be seen. We met a load of the other lads from our hostel and had a few drinks with them. After what seemed like only 10 minutes it was 4am and everyone was looking a bit worse for wear. Me and Rach decided to call it a night and on the way out of the nightclub who walks in but Rob Kearney! We got chatting to him and got a few photos (Just look at the excitement on Rachel's face!). As a farewell he grabbed the crest of my Leinster jersey and kissed it telling me 'Best team in the world!', as if I didnt already know that? Turns out we missed Paul O'Connell by ten minutes as he arrived in after we left but a few of the other lads met him and said he was a really nice guy. In fact all the Lions players were very good with fans, they seemed to have lots of time for people coming up and having a chat and posing for pictures. I'm glad we left when we did though as we may have ended up like one of the lads from the hostel, Ross, he didn't leave the nightclub till 6am and doesn't remembering anything till he woke up in the airport the next morning with no wallet, camera, phone etc. He had missed his flight home but he eventually sorted out a new one for Tuesday and insurance covered him for everything. He was suprised to hear one of the lads tell him that he was in the middle of a conversation with Phil Vickery in the nightclub when he just randomly fell over. He admits he may have been a little drunk, we all had a good laugh about it.
It was a great day and re-arranging our flights and spending a lot of money on match tickets was worth it in the end.
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